It’s all for the birds (and you)

Ashley Fitzpatrick
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Natural wonders at Cape St. Mary’s Ecological Reserve

One bird swooped, one squawked, and another zipped by with something in its beak. They were mostly northern gannets and black-legged kittiwakes and they covered the cap of the aptly named Bird Rock at the Cape St. Mary’s Ecological Reserve on Thursday.

While there was sunshine in St. John’s, there was thick fog, mist and the occasional heavy shower about 200 kilometres southwest of the city, at one of 18 provincial wilderness and ecological reserves within the province.

Each year, Bird Rock and the adjacent cliffs at the Cape St. Mary’s Ecological Reserve become home to roughly 24,000 northern gannets, 20,000 black-legged kittiwakes, 20,000 common murres, and 2,000 thick-billed murres.

Razorbills, black guillemots, cormorants and northern fulmar have also been spotted there, according to information provided to visitors.

The gathering has made the location a popular spot for photographers, ornithologists, birdwatchers and a variety of others, most with a general interest in the Newfoundland and Labrador wilds.

“It’s really quite something. The birds appearing out of nowhere — out of the fog,” said Robin Hurford, on her way back along the one-kilometre footpath between the

bird colony and the visitors centre.

From New Zealand, Hurford has been in the province for months with family. She had wanted to make the trip to Cape St. Mary’s and decided not to be bothered by the weather, revelling in the result.

“They are places where nature is meant to reign supreme,” states the Government of Newfoundland and Labrador’s website on its reserve areas. And dozens came out to “the Cape” on the same day as Hurford to experience just such a place.

The rushing roll of ocean waves, cry of the birds and fog horn were constant during the afternoon. In addition to the birds, visitors on the roughly 10-square-kilometres of land (the reserve covers 64 square kilometres in total, with the majority marine area) were treated to the sight of vibrant green meadow, with scattered pools of wild, purple irises.  

Also along the path were sheep — dozens of sheep — grazing. And occasionally, with a drawn-out “baa” and a lunge forward, one of the animals would protest against a tourist’s pat, simultaneously warning his googly-eyed neighbours.

Tourists stepped carefully, keeping to the designated and sometimes rocky path and working to avoid the sheep poop.

From Ontario, David Grant was spotted sitting on a wooden bench, available along the visitor’s path, with windbreaker ruffling and hood pulled tight around his face, against the rain.

“I love it. It is absolutely a great place,” he said.

And the fine day?

“This is part of it,” he responded, with a smile.

Grant has been to Newfoundland and Labrador three or four dozen times in the past, but always only to St. John’s and only on business. Now retired, he and his wife, Esther Grant, decided to take three weeks and see a little more of the island portion of the province.

They have spent time in Rocky Harbour and Gros Morne National Park, driven up and down the Northern Peninsula, dropped in on Twillingate, Trinity and Fogo. They were set to stay at St. Bride’s for the night.

“It’s my first trip to this island and I think this island is absolutely beautiful,” said Esther.

The Telegram decided to drop in at Cape St. Mary’s after the author of a letter to the Editor claimed the site was poorly tended, with the visitor’s centre — officially the Dr. Leslie M. Tuck Centre — in disrepair. The letter specifically noted sagged siding on the Tuck building, the need for fresh paint and a “partially missing” door.

A paint job is needed, but the building is having work done — a staff member said the door was being replaced in the next few days.

And there was friendly staff on hand — two to three individuals on each stop inside the interpretation centre, with another encountered a roughly 15-minute walk away, at Bird Rock.

The woman speaking with visitors at Bird Rock said she could not answer any questions posed by a reporter, without some kind of prior release.

But visitors of the day were able to ask questions and have them answered and, when asked along the path if there was anything they might improve or change, no one raised the visitor’s building.

Visitors this year will be able to take in special performances by musicians, storytellers and authors on Saturdays in July and August at the visitor’s centre, beginning July 19. More information is available at:


See related letter in Letters to the Editor.



Geographic location: Bird Rock, Newfoundland and Labrador, New Zealand Ontario Rocky Harbour Gros Morne National Park Northern Peninsula

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